Rangers aren’t worried about lack of playoff experience

The Rangers and Penguins are relatively even in their first-round series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning Tuesday night at the Garden, but the biggest differences come in postseason experience.

Pittsburgh has a distinct advantage in this category. Significant can even be an understatement.

Every year, NHL players talk about the differences between the regular season and the playoffs. The changes in speed, intensity and overall feel of the game. The heightened emotions, the increased bugs, and the emphasis on combat levels. Many have said that no one can understand what it’s like until you actually experience it.

But the Rangers don’t believe in it. The rangers can’t get involved because the penguins could take advantage of them there.

“I don’t think experience is all you take credit for,” said Andrew Copp, who returned to practice on Sunday for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury that sidelined him in three of Rangers’ last four games the regular season. “They are just three really good players and their team is very good. Of course, I also think our team is very good. I think we are ready for this challenge. It’s definitely going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to it.”

The Rangers have significantly less playoff experience than the Penguins.
Robert Sabo

Artemi Panarin, who was also back in training after missing the last two games with an upper-body injury, added: “We’re not really thinking about it, to be honest. We respect them but we just focus on our game. We have confidence in our game and in our young people, they have the experience already in the season. We should be fine.”

The Penguins are in the playoffs for the 16th straight season, extending the longest active postseason streak among teams in major North American professional sports leagues. (In one of those years, however, the Penguins lost to the Canadians in the qualifying round of the 2020 bubble.) They’ve also won three Stanley Cups in that span. Rangers, who have missed the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, have not made it past the second round since the 2014-15 season when they lost to the Lightning in seven games in the conference finals.

Looking at who is likely to start for Rangers in Game 1, and Sunday’s practice showed it could be Ryan Reaves vs Dryden Hunt, Rangers have four players with absolutely no playoff experience and nine total who have either or just have the three games during the 2020 bubble playoffs.

Excluding the Rangers, who only appeared in the bubble, the Rangers roster has a total of 414 playoff games in experience. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang have 486 games under just the three.

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“Stanley Cups, the Big Three of Crosby, Malkin and Letang,” Copp said of what comes to mind when he thinks of the penguins. “Three players who have all won three trophies together know what it takes at this time of year, have seen it all. … Obviously a team that’s made the playoffs I think 16 straight years, maybe even longer. Which of course is very, very impressive.”

Reaves has the most postseason experience in Rangers’ expected Game 1 lineup with 84 playoff games. Chris Kreider isn’t far behind with 80. Defenseman Justin Braun, who would likely be the first line defender if injured, has 100 games of playoff experience.

The last time the Rangers and Penguins faced each other in the playoffs was in 2016, when Pittsburgh easily won the series in five games. The only player left on the Rangers list from this year is Kreider.

“It’s just the balanced mentality,” said Copp. “Winning Game 1 of Round 1 doesn’t mean you’ve won the Stanley Cup. And losing Game 1 doesn’t mean you’re going home in four. Probably just keep that balanced mentality. It’s a long series, but it’s also a short series.

“Just sort of riding that fine line of urgency and desperation, but at the same time not getting too desperate and making erratic plays to try and come back in a game or something. Just stay the course.” Rangers aren’t worried about lack of playoff experience


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